Make the Iowa Caucuses as Meaningful as Possible

Memo to State Central Committee and Republican Operatives:

There have been many published analyses and commentaries predicting the demise of the influence of the Iowa Republican Caucuses for one reason or another. Poorly analyzed but often cited is that because a plurality candidate often emerges as the “winner” that such a candidate may reflect only a “narrow” range of Republican sentiment. I do not quite understand the point, only the superficiality of the analysis.

A plurality candidate is not properly understood as the “winner” of the caucuses as the term should be reserved for a candidate who receives at least a bare majority. Certainly a candidate achieving only a plurality also indicates that more than half of the caucus goers preferred for various reasons other candidates. But you all know that and may feel to some extent frustration as to how the Iowa Caucuses will be portrayed. Indeed the caucuses are better understood as a proving ground, a learning event, and a winnowing contest.

But more useful information can and should come out of the caucuses with the encouragement of the Republican Party of Iowa than statements to the effect candidate W received the plurality, candidate X was next or “second;” candidate Y was next at “third;” candidate Z was next at “fourth;” etc.

If the tallying is limited as in the past, the results do not necessarily mean that the number two singular vote getter for example, is favored second most. Without more information that could be a serious misunderstanding. Strictly speaking that candidate is only favored as “first” or “my most favorite” by the second highest group of people, NOT second overall. Conceivably the fourth place finisher could actually be favored “second most” more than the plurality winner or any other combination of candidates, even overwhelmingly so. I think having that information would be very useful and helpful.

Even more refined would be to provide for an even more complete preferential ordering, it is entirely feasible with a simple grid and their is ample time in the duration of the caucus to record such results, and regardless we should not be slaves to media preferences. But that is not what I am suggesting. The “second most favored” geometrically enhances the useful information available.

Some pre-polls have attempted to provide some of this information, but in my view caucus polling is fraught with unreliability especially as regards predicting what the caucuses are intended to “prove” about a candidate . . . getting people to actually show up. Only the caucus night presidential preference poll itself can provide that. Exit and post polling is also fraught with unreliability.

The official ballot provided to the caucuses indicates “Please choose ONLY one.” But the caucuses are not the same as a general election plebiscite where typically an either or situation is necessarily concluded. We can better help determine the Republican field by incorporating provision for obtaining more information at the caucuses and arguably give more meaning and support to our first in the nation status. I believe it would actually enhance the “caucus” aura rather than the all too pervasive attempt by candidate operatives to turn the evening into a slightly longer primary and its limited funcionality.

I understand that ballots are necessarily printed. I am not calling for the reporting of the preferential ordering of the panoply of candidates as understandably that depth of preferential thought is often sketchy. But I maintain that “second preference” is not and could be compelling information. As a veteran of every presidential precinct caucus since 1976, chairing many of my residential precincts and helping run each of them, I see no difficulty in either announcing that all “may place a second place pick at the bottom which will be recorded and reported,” or providing for it to be done in a statistically representative way.

I also hope that a suitable statement can be promulgated calling for caucus attendees and candidates to “honor the results of the Republican Party caucus primary and convention system.”


Roger Mall (Chairman, Veritas PAC)